Advice to Help Your Teens Get Enough Sleep

Teen girl sleeping

This fall, California is rolling out a first-of-its-kind law that pushes back class start times for most public middle and high schools. High schools in the state can’t start before 8:30 a.m., and for middle schools, it’s 8 a.m. Research has shown that if teens get more sleep, attendance and school performance will improve.

Sumit Bhargava, MD, pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, says that sleep needs to be prioritized, as it is important to the overall health of all children and teens.

“Sleep has been postulated to help with brain development and the development of memories,” he says. “In addition, adequate sleep appears to be protective against chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.”

Most teens are sleep-deprived

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven out of 10 high-school students are not getting enough sleep. Dr. Bhargava explains that teens start feeling sleepy much later in the evening compared with elementary school students, which means they need a later bedtime. However, in most cases, except for California now, high school students still must wake up relatively early for school.

“This results in the sleep-deprived teenager having extreme difficulty in waking up and then feeling sleepy or falling asleep in class,” Dr. Bhargava says. “This can also contribute to drowsy driving, an added complication for the novice teenage driver.”

So, just how much sleep does your child need? That depends on his or her age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following:

  • Ages 3–5: 10–13 hours of sleep (includes naps)
  • Ages 6–10: 9–12 hours of sleep
  • Ages 13–18: 8–10 hours of sleep

Tips for better sleep

Setting a bedtime schedule, having a consistent wake time, and turning off screens can all contribute to a better night’s rest. But what if your teen tends to stay up late?

Dr. Bhargava recommends keeping phone and tablet charging stations outside of the bedroom. Research has shown that even the presence of a charger can reduce sleep duration by 20–30 minutes. Another is to make sure your teen has about 45 minutes of physical activity every day, ideally before 7 p.m.

He also suggests that teens avoid oversleeping on the weekends. Your teen may be inclined to catch up on lost sleep, but it’s not likely that they’ll be able to completely pay off their sleep debt. Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of sleep deficit and up to nine days to eliminate it. While naps can help with short-term recovery, they can also lead to a delay in falling asleep at night, which sets up a cycle of decreased sleep duration, daytime drowsiness, and increased sleep debt.

“Having realistic ideas about the appropriate bedtime and sleep duration are important for the high school student to avoid insomnia and making sleep onset a stressful experience,” Dr. Bhargava says. “Sleep needs to be considered as part of a healthy life, and good sleep habits can be both taught and learned.”

If your child continues to have sleep issues, discuss them with your child’s health care provider or a sleep medicine specialist.


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